Going Beyond Email: Marketing Software with Targeted In-Product Messaging


We live in a time where email rules the world of software marketing. Because email is relatively inexpensive and easy to both produce and distribute, it has become the most popular and ubiquitous vehicle for marketing applications, with software vendors everywhere flooding the inboxes of prospects and customers each day with news of new products, releases, and promotional offers.

But while email’s popularity as a software marketing vehicle is undeniable, its effectiveness remains in question. Most email campaigns receive between 1 percent and 4 percent click-through rates, meaning 96 percent to 99 percent of the target audience ignored the message’s call to action. Is this effective?

Ironically, it is email’s popularity that has become its biggest shortcoming. People’s inboxes routinely overflow with new email, many of which are marketing new products and services, and the likelihood that any particular message will be noticed, much less read, becomes more and more remote with each new email that comes in. Plus, with the growing sophistication of spam-blocking software and increasing governmental legislation regulating email marketing, it is becoming increasingly difficult for email marketing messages to get through. Although it is unlikely that email marketing campaigns will become extinct in the near future, most software vendors and intelligent device manufacturers are looking for other, more effective ways to market their products.

Intended for product managers and those responsible for marketing applications, this white paper examines the problems with using email as a marketing tool and discusses a new vehicle for promoting software, called targeted inproduct messaging. It also provides an overview of Flexera Software FlexNet Connect, which makes it easy for product managers to send targeted in-product messaging to their customers and evaluators.

The Shortcomings of Email Marketing

While email remains one of the most popular vehicles for marketing software products/applications, its effectiveness as a promotional vehicle has not improved. In fact, it has been argued that the more email marketing’s popularity grows, the more its effectiveness will diminish.

What are some of the reasons why click-through rates of marketing emails are consistently low? Listed below are a few factors:

  • No email address–Obviously you need an actual email address if you want to send emails to a customer or evaluator, but often software vendors don’t have the addresses of all their customers and prospects. If the user doesn’t take time to register the product, if the product was purchased from a third-party reseller or if a prospect failed to provide an email address when they were initially added to your database (e.g., for downloading a product evaluation or white paper), emailing them isn’t possible.
  • Incorrect or invalid email address–If the person who registered the product initially gave an incorrect email address, if they quit their job or got fired or if they decided to stop using the email address they provided, your email marketing messages won’t reach them.
  • Valid email address, but wrong person–Sometimes the person who registers or purchases the product is not the person who uses the product; they may have nothing to do with the product at all. This is especially true with software sold to enterprises. When this happens, if they don’t forward your messages on to the right person, your words fall on the wrong ears.
  • Opt-out law–The CAN-SPAM Act passed by the US Congress in January of 2004 ensures that if a recipient wants to unsubscribe or opt-out of receiving emails from you, you must stop sending them emails or be subject to severe penalties. For many software vendors, this law means that they aren’t able to email a significant percentage of their user base.
  • Spam blockers–With the growing popularity and sophistication of spam blockers, there is no longer any guarantee that your email messages will ever reach the user’s inbox. And since spam blocker rules are constantly evolving, getting your emails past them has become a never-ending struggle.
  • Overloaded inboxes–Your email message has to compete for the attention of the recipient with every other new message in the inbox. The more emails a person receives, the less likely they are to pay attention to yours, and if a person only checks their inbox once every few days, your email could literally be one of hundreds they have to sort through.
  • Bad timing–Ideally people will see your email message at a time when they are thinking about your product or the problems it solves. Unfortunately, you can’t control when a person checks their inbox. If they see your message when they are preoccupied with other matters or when they only have a few seconds to browse through all their new emails, chances are your message will be ignored.
  • Subject line limitations–Most inboxes only display the email sender’s name and a subject line about 40-50 characters long. That means you have very limited real estate to persuade someone to open your email. If your subject line isn’t able to grab their attention, they will delete your message without opening it.

While it is unlikely that the practice of email marketing will vanish any time soon, it is clear that it has significant shortcomings that hinder its effectiveness. So what should software product managers do? Give up email marketing entirely? Of course not. But instead of relying so heavily on email as your primary marketing vehicle, combine it with other, more effective forms of marketing, such as targeted in-product messaging.

What Is Targeted In-Product Messaging?

More and more product managers, tired of the shortcomings of email, have begun using targeted in-product messaging to improve the way they market their software products.

Targeted in-product messaging refers to marketing messages with content tailored to fit the actual profiles and preferences of each recipient. Where email blasts often segment mailing lists into two or three large groups and then alter their messages slightly to suit the generic, assumed characteristics of each, targeted in-product messaging breaks down target lists with far more precision, delivering tailored content to individual users or small user groups based on real data about their profiles and actual preferences.

Targeted in-product messaging also differentiates itself from email by the timeliness and directness of its delivery. Where a product manager’s email gets dumped into a user’s inbox to wait for the recipient to visit and hopefully take notice, a targeted in-product message proactively appears on that user’s desktop at the best possible time–as they actively use your software–making it more efficient and effective. It delivers the right content to the right user at the right time.

How Does It Compare to Email?

Targeted in-product messaging compares favorably to email as a software marketing vehicle in several key ways:

  • Sent directly to user–One of the biggest advantages of targeted in-product messaging over email is that it appears in front of the user as they use your software. There are no spam blockers to fool, and because no contact information is needed, there is no risk of your message being sent to a nonexistent or incorrect inbox.
  • Seen at the best possible time–Users see your message at a time when they are most likely to be receptive to it: when they are actively using your product. Your message hits them when your product and the problems it helps them solve are at the top of their minds.
  • Exclusivity–Your users see only your targeted in-product messages when they access your product–no one else’s. Unlike email, your messages don’t have to compete for the recipient’s attention with hundreds of other messages from other software vendors and product marketers.
  • User-specific messaging–Targeted in-product messages use actual, real-time reporting data about a software product’s users to establish their profile and preferences (i.e., what OS do they use, how often do they use your product, which features do they use most often, etc.), which then helps determine what marketing and promotional content will be most effective for each user or user group.
  • Easy to measure–Depending on which email tool you use, you might only be able to determine the total number of click-throughs your email receives. You don’t know how many people opened the message, or how many unique recipients clicked through. With targeted in-product messaging, you can generate reports that tell you how many unique users opened the message, clicked on the links, and what days each of these events occurred.